The day the RNLI saved my father's life: Antrim ace Neil McManus
HUGH McManus never had a sick day in his life. Never took a tablet and never darkened his GP’s door.
Saturday September 12, 2015 felt like any other Saturday.
For breakfast, he had porridge, toast and orange juice before heading out for a round of golf in Cushendall.
“At the fourth hole I felt really warm and I thought it was the extra gear I had on me that was making me feel warm,” Hugh recalls.
The fifth hole has a bit of an incline to it and it was at that point he knew there was something wrong.
He packed his clubs into the boot of his car and headed back home.
“It was the day before we played the club semi-final against Loughgiel,” says Neil McManus, Hugh’s son.
“I’ve never known my father to be unwell my whole life.
“I rang an ambulance probably more off a hunch than anything and told them: ‘I think my dad’s having a heart attack.’
“We have a volunteer service in the Glens called ‘First Responders’ who will pick up a defibrillator and these few people go and try to get to the person’s aid.
“The local RLNI [Royal National Lifeboat Institution] crew members got the text message from the ambulance service.”
At that time, nobody in the village cared to put house numbers on their doors because “everybody knows everybody’s house.”
As well as being a member of the RNLI, Joe Burns was one of the ‘First Responders’ team in the local area.
Hugh McIlwaine, another member, was next on the scene.
Neil adds: “Joe Burns came to our house to find out where number 12 was – and he obviously knew by the expression on my face.
“He asked me: ‘Neil, is your father alright?’ and I said: ‘No’.
“He came in and he was there in the nick of time. He saved his life in our house that Saturday morning.”
Joe began “prepping” Hugh, removing his shirt and shaving some chest hair.
“I remember having a conversation with Joe and I remember my eyes starting to close and I thought to myself: ‘Hugh, don’t close your eyes – that’s not a good idea.’
“But I couldn’t stop myself and I arrested…”
Hugh and his wife Dorothy were supposed to be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary that day.
Instead, Hugh was in an ambulance being driven to hospital where he would end up getting seven stents inserted.
During the journey, Hugh kept telling Neil to “concentrate on the game tomorrow [against Loughgiel] – don’t let this stop you”.
Last year, Hugh was bestowed the honour of becoming captain of Cushendall Golf Club. He invited Joe Burns and Hugh McIlwaine to the captain’s evening.
“I kept the two boys going, I said: ‘If you ever wake up some night and Joe is on your chest and Hugh is round your mouth, don’t get too worried!’
“I make light of it now but I look back and realise how lucky I was.”
As fate would have it, the following day’s match between Cushendall and Loughgiel was abandoned after Liam Watson’s father suffered a heart-attack on the sidelines.
Both men ended up in the same hospital ward.
When Neil was asked by a friend and local RNLI member Paddy McLaughlin to support a link-up between the volunteer lifeboat organisation and the GAA it was a “no-brainer”.
Last Wednesday, the GAA and RNLI's ‘Respect the Water’ campaign was launched at Croke Park.
“How could I not support this initiative between the RNLI and the GAA?” said Neil.
“They saved my father’s life – and he has gone from strength to strength.”
Dublin ladies footballer Lyndsey Davey, former Kilkenny hurler Jackie Tyrell, Cork footballer Brian Hurley and Kerry footballer Killian Young were in attendance to help raise awareness about drowning around coastal parts of Ireland.
“We’re such a rural area, we have to be self-sufficient and the RNLI provide a huge service to our community,” says Neil.
“They’re called out so regularly to cover issues in Rathlin Island where the seas are some of the most treacherous in Europe. So we’re indebted to the RNLI in Cushendall.”
Originally from north Belfast, the McManus clan moved to Cushendall during the height of the Troubles.
Hugh’s father already had connections up in the Glens so they upped sticks in 1973.
Hugh married local woman Dorothy Hamill in 1981, the day before Cushendall’s county championship final against Ballycastle.
The newly-weds stayed for the game, which ended in a draw, and returned in time from their honeymoon to see the Ruairi Ogs win the replay and capture their first-ever county title.
As soon as they were old enough, their children John, Neil and Maria donned the Ruairi Og jersey.
“There was never a negative word spoken in our house," says Neil.
"We played Gaelic football and soccer as well and we were told to enjoy it. They are as good a parents as you’d ever hope to have.
“I’ll always remember being brought to Antrim matches – by my father and my uncle Charlie Hamill.
"We were no height going to Casement. My brother and I reminisce about that so regularly.
"Those days going to Casement felt like we were going to a different country, maybe getting a burger on the way home. Fantastic memories, I have.
"Everybody held my father in high esteem and you don’t realise that until you’re 15 or 16 simply by how he conducted himself."
A couple of things have changed since Saturday September 12 2015: everybody has house numbers on their doors in Cushendall and Hugh McManus has never felt better.
The RNLI will work with the GAA and their volunteers in local communities to promote the 'Respect the Water' campaign and share key safety messages and advice.
To watch the GAA launch video download rnli.org/news-and-media